One of my primary messages in therapy is that of taking care of yourself, otherwise known as “self-care.” We talk a lot about developing a self-care practice and resourcing tools within yourself to pull on strengths and behaviors when times get tough. This is particularly useful when you are in a major life-transition, experiencing a significant loss of some sort, or when you find yourself stuck in a place you don’t want to be (ie., a job, a relationship, a life-stage, an illness, etc.). An interesting conversation has developed lately that illuminated a fine-line between self-care and distraction that I thought may be worth a broader discussion. This fine-line is interesting and important to consider because on the outside these behaviors may look similar but produce significantly different results within you. For example, if you are going through a divorce or serious break-up, your friends may encourage you to go out drinking in an attempt to help you “just get over it.” This would be a distraction. Conversely, visiting with close friends as a way to connect, talk, laugh, and remind yourself you are not all alone in the world, could be considered self-care. So, I ask, “What’s the difference?”
The Difference Between Distractions and Self-Care:
- distractions are temporary; self-care builds a strong foundation of self
- distractions are destructive; self-care is nurturing
- distractions require a self-sacrifice on some level; self-care creates boundaries
- distractions are addictive and seek instant gratification; self-care is moderate and patient
- distractions are unconscious and dissociative; self-care is conscious and present
- distractions create an escape from emotions; self-care holds space for working through emotions
Notice a difference here? Scan the two lists below to see some examples of each and give yourself a chance to self-assess. Feel free to add your own. Be honest with yourself and if you find that you are relating with several of the items on the distraction list, you may want to ask, “what am I distracting myself from?”
Behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that serve as distractions:
- substance use/abuse/dependence
- overuse of Facebook, emails, texting, gaming or web surfing
- any kind of other addictive behavior: eating, gambling, sex, romance, work, etc.
- online dating before your marriage is over or right after a relationship ends in order to get over a relationship; dating multiple people at once so you don’t have to spend one night alone
- watching TV every night until you fall asleep or sleeping with the TV on
- becoming over-focused on your children
- avoiding the issue that is in front of you
- numbing out; feeling numb; not feeling anything during a painful time
- lying to yourself and/or others about your situation or how you feel
- telling yourself and/or others, “everything is fine”
- engaging in behaviors you think might push the feelings down or make them go away
- complaining to anyone who will hear about how bad your situation is
- intentionally over-scheduling or getting really busy so you have no time to think and are so exhausted by the end of the day all you can do is go to sleep and get up to do it all over again (hamster wheel of busyness)
Behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that contribute to self-care:
- time for self balanced with time with others
- work/life balance
- breath awareness
- meditation and/or other spiritual practice
- setting goals
- processing feelings
- identifying what you want
- identifying who you are: qualities, likes, dislikes, etc.
- setting clear boundaries
- speaking up for yourself
- creating an environment that nurtures you
- surrounding yourself with healthy friends
- focusing on what is truly important to you
- prioritizing healthy sleeping and eating practices
- healthy and moderate exercise habits
- keeping a journal
- expressing a clear “yes/no”
- involvement with your children, balanced with goals and activities of your own
Developing a Self-Care practice:
So now that you have reviewed the non-exhaustive lists above, how would you rate your self-care? If you found that you may need to adopt a few more from the second list, its time to ask yourself a few more questions. What kind of life do you want to have? What nurtures you? How many friends do you have that you can be your authentic self around? What kind of activities do you enjoy? Are there any behaviors on the list you would be willing to try or that seem to call out to you?
Your answers to these questions will give you some guidance on where to begin, or what you might add to enhance your current self-care. Something to consider is creating a “self-care contract” with yourself. It is always great to share this commitment with a close friend or partner as a way to hold yourself accountable. However, ultimately the commitment is to yourself. This is an exercise in “holding on to yourself.” It is so easy to jump out of an experience, abandon yourself, or numb out. It takes incredible courage to stay present, ride out the emotion, and tune into what you need in that moment. Once that becomes clear, give it to yourself! You deserve it!
It is time to give yourself permission to move through whatever you are struggling with at this time in your life. You always have the option to stay stuck, and distractions will certainly keep you there. Sometimes that is actually a part of the journey. When you gather the courage to step forward, you may realize that this is an opportunity to meet yourself in a whole new way, learn from your loss, transition, or awakening, and evolve into a more expanded you. Sometimes it is difficult to see how you distract yourself, so ask someone you trust to help. Or seek out professional assistance. Counseling is a great way to shift from distraction to self-care within an environment of support, encouragement, and gentle nudging.
My hope is that you will continue this discussion by sharing it with a friend, posting it on facebook, or leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing what you discover about yourself!